Tag Archives: Homophobia

A gay pro coming out? ‘Media intrusion is putting them off’

After a weekend of football supporting the rainbow laces campaign and LGBT equality, it’s clear the sport is committed to making football accessible for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

From the Premier League down to League Two, players, managers and officials including Spurs star Eric Dier, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and referee Martin Atkinson endorsed the campaign.

Corner flags usually adorned with a club’s crest were replaced with ones bearing the rainbow colours. Twitter profile pictures of the EFL, Premier League and clubs were all transformed to support the cause.

It was a clear sign of support for the LGBT community, with many clubs also supporting LGBT groups and the Premier League having a three-year deal with Stonewall, the LGBT rights group.

And yet not everyone was visible in backing the campaign. Not one player at the London Stadium wore the laces as West Ham played Leicester on Friday, and you only need to look at Twitter to see some of the vile comments generated by the weekend’s activities.

‘I don’t know when it will happen’

Homophobia is still rife in the game, and Wycombe midfielder Matt Bloomfield admits he has no idea when the first gay player will come out.

The 33-year-old became the first player to sign the government’s ‘Football against Homophobia’ charter in October 2011 on behalf of the Chairboys. The aim of the charter is to provide a backing and show that people’s sexuality is not an issue.

But six years later, Bloomfield says the day that a male professional footballer comes out as gay in this country could still be some time away.

“I’ve got no idea when it will happen,” he says. “When I signed the charter in 2011, I hoped it would be soon. It’s not looking like it’s going to be imminent, but I hope it will be soon.

‘In 2017 being gay is part of common life, so it’s shame there’s no openly gay footballers’

“I’ve no right to say when a player should come out. They should be able to live their life as they want, and they should feel comfortable and confident.

‘’I haven’t come across any gay players, but [if I did] I hope they would confide in me. I have no issues with it, but unfortunately no one has been confident enough to do it yet.

‘’In 2017 being gay is part of common life, so it’s shame there’s no openly gay footballers.’’

Intrusion

In the past few years, former Aston Villa defender Thomas Hitzlsperger and Leeds United player Robbie Rogers have both confirmed they are gay, but only after ending their playing careers, with  with the former revealing it would have been “impossible” to come out whilst playing.

Bloomfield, who has racked up over 450 appearances for Wycombe, agrees with the former Germany player. “There would be a lot of media intrusion,” he agrees. “Particularly in the Premier League, there would be great intrusion into their private life.

“They would be followed to training, watched to see what they’re getting up to at home and wherever they go, and their private lives would go. They would be followed everywhere and they’d be put massively into the spotlight.

“That could trickle onto the terraces and into the changing room, and they may well suffer some abuse over it.

“They wouldn’t be able to focus on their career, and I think the fear of that is putting a gay player off from coming out. They want to focus on playing and don’t want the hassle it would bring.”

Fashanu

Fashanu remains the only high-profile footballer to come out whilst playing

Justin Fashanu was the first openly gay player in the 1980s, but it was reported his Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough would abuse him for being gay.

Arriving from Norwich for £1m in 1981, the striker was sold on the cheap across the Trent to Notts County a year later.

He struggled with his career amid his sexuality, playing for a further 17 clubs. In 1990, The Sun revealed he was gay. Just eight years later, amid sexual assault allegations, he committed suicide.

Whilst Bloomfield believes LGBT rights are becoming more widely accepted, he says Fashanu’s sad story still acts a case in point in putting players off from coming out.

‘’It was 30-odd-years ago, so we have moved on. LGBT acceptance is better now than then and will get better in the next 20, 30, 40 years,’’ he says. I’m pleased with how things are as acceptance is becoming the norm.

‘’But until a gay player comes out, Fashanu will still be a reference point and it’s a shame.

‘’A player will be massively in the spotlight. Fashanu would have been better off now, so it’s really sad. Hopefully we will see a gay player very soon.’’

Education

The ex-England youth international is a part of the Justin Campaign, set up in 2008 to remember Fashanu and to provide a message that football is open and there is acceptance. In recent years there has been a clampdown on racial abuse due to education, and Bloomfield believes education is important.

“I was at an event the campaign had set up and I was speaking to a Nottingham Forest fan. He was saying how he hears homophobic slang and abuse, yet racial abuse is frowned upon,’’ he says.

“There’s no difference between racist and homophobic abuse. Both are abuse.

“My uncle was gay, so from my own point of view I have always seen being gay as normal. That upbringing has shaped me as an adult. Some people have different upbringings and those influences can rub off on you, making them narrow as an adult.

“Children and young adults may hear slang and think it’s acceptable. Both adults and children need to be educated, because it’s unacceptable.”

Stereotype

Bloomfield is also a qualified journalist, having completed a degree in sports writing and broadcasting at Staffordshire University, and has written about around homophobia in football on the BBC website.

There was a time, he said, when he put his name into Google and it would come up with ‘Matt Bloomfield gay’. Whilst he says he has no issues as he is comfortable in his own skin, with his wife and children, he believes stereotyping of footballers may well be a hindrance.

Ex-Chelsea player Graham Le Saux became – in his words – the “non-gay gay icon” just because he didn’t fit the stereotype.

“Just because he is well-spoken, read books and had other hobbies people, just thought ‘oh, he is gay’.”

‘’He did play 20-odd years ago when there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance, but footballers have a stereotype as being uneducated,’’ he says.

‘’Just because he is well-spoken, read books and had other hobbies, people just thought ‘oh, he is gay’. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

‘’He can’t be a proper player because he is smart and enjoys other things in life. It’s stupid.

‘’But newspapers want to sell copies, so they will run nonsense like that. That’s life.

‘’Players want to concentrate on playing. They have enough to deal with in personal life without the media intrusion.

‘’The case of Le Saux does put pros off from coming out.’’

Support

In a recent Daily Star interview with former Stoke City player Carl Hoefkens, the Belgian claimed that a household name at the club did bring he boyfriend to training.

Bloomfield said is surprised by such comments, but believes the Professional Footballers Association will help players to reveal their sexuality as and when they want.

“I was really surprised to see such comments, because he was so open. The identity could have easily been leaked, they could have been followed and snapped, and with social media anything can be spread at the touch of a button.

“But I feel they do have they support they need. The PFA and FA have taken great strides in helping to deal with the stigma of mental health. Yes, more can be done, but they are committed to helping players and supporting them in their decisions.

“They are trying to get rid of the stigma and support openly gay players. I hope it happens soon.”

For more information about Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, click here.

LGBT football supporters’ groups on the rise

In 2014, Proud Canaries was launched and became the second officially-recognised lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) football supporters’ group in the country – the first was Arsenal’s Gay Gooners.

Since then, the group and its chair Di Cunningham have gone from strength to strength. Proud Canaries has raised awareness of LGBT fans and challenged homophobia as well as other forms of discrimination at Norwich’s Carrow Road home.

LGBT supporters’ groups are on the rise; there are now over 20 around the country, including 11 in the Premier League.

Fans from several LGBT supporters’ groups get together at a pride event

Cunningham has even set up the Pride in Football supporters network, which had its first formal meeting with the Football Association (FA) last year. The next scheduled for March 2017.

The groups are formed of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans supporters who work alongside their clubs to make attending football matches a safer place for everyone, by challenging homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

And since Proud Canaries was established, Cunningham has certainly seen a change. “In the 2014-15 season there were five incidents of homophobia and this was Norwich fans reporting Norwich fans”

“People didn’t report it before, partly because they didn’t think it was something to report, that it was normal behaviour at a football ground, and partly because they didn’t think anything would happen.

“Both of those issues have been raised by our launch and solved due to the awareness of Proud Canaries; there are LGBT fans in the crowd and that person sitting over there may be LGBT.

proud-canaries
Proud Canaries logo

“The fans can see the club are committed to Proud Canaries, that they will take action. No-one was banned or had season tickets removed, they were ejected from the ground but all five people are on their last warning and there’s been no reports since.”

The Proud Canary added that Carrow Road is now more of a “welcoming place” and that “more people are aware of not being homophobic,” she stated “you certainly get that impression from other LGBT supporters groups as well”.

The challenges of homophobia in football

The challenges of erasing homophobia from football stadia are clear.

The worry, however, is that there is no data to show exactly how many reports have been filed regarding homophobic abuse, at what clubs and what action may or may not have been taken, be it by police or football club.

If homophobia amongst football crowds was no longer a problem, we wouldn’t have police warning fans about potential discriminating behaviours; see Aston Villa’s police liaison officer’s tweet below – I didn’t wan’t to share the homophobic comments that followed in the Tweet trail…

 

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Hertha Berlin’s anti-gay banner read: ‘WH96: Rather a mother than two fathers’

Often, homophobic abuse at football grounds, such as Brighton fans being taunted by the away supporters’ song ‘Does your boyfriend know you here?’ and Hertha Berlin’s recent banner jibe at Cologne (pictured) is labelled as ‘banter’, but Cunningham rejects this outright.

“I just don’t think any of it is banter; you wouldn’t hear it if it was racist, you just wouldn’t. Mocking anyone’s race is racist and anything mocking anyone’s sexuality is homophobic.”

The chair of Pride in Football explained the difficulties of reporting homophobia and the aim going forward. “What we are trying to do, as part of pride in football, across the country, is to get some kind of unified reporting system in place

“A set of data that shows how many reports there have been, at what clubs and what action was taken as a result.

“This just doesn’t exist at the moment, as there are so many different ways of reporting; be it through the club or the police and then it just ends, it’s been reported and nobody knows what happens as a result”.

Setting up Proud Canaries

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The late, openly gay Norwich striker Justin Fashanu

It was a personal experience that led Cunningham to set up the Proud Canaries, an experience of which many LGBT fans can sadly relate to.

“I had two season ticket holders who sat behind me, almost every home match would say something homophobic in some way and it began to really get to me.

“On Justin Fashanu’s birthday [Former Norwich striker and the first openly gay footballer who tragically hung himself in 1998] we had been handing out stickers from the yearly Norwich pride event, and that day I just turned round and said ‘Can you just not’.

“Shockingly they both had young sons they brought, so I did kind of confront of it, but I did feel bad for moving seats and not dealing with the problem.

“A friend of mine knew someone from the Gay Gooners group, so we thought we would set up the LGBT Proud Canaries.”

The club responded, and provide constant support for Proud Canaries. Norwich’s latest fans’ forum stated the following points:

  • Signage at Carrow Road is being reviewed and will be updated to incorporate reference to homophobia.
  • Reporting mechanisms for supporters to report abuse – more prominence to be given to contact details in match day programme.
  • Proud Canaries would like to offer their services as an educational resource as part of any anti-discrimination work the Club is undertaking, including through the Community Sports Foundation

You can see Di Cunningham’s video animation story explaining the beginnings of Proud Canaries by clicking here

Parliament committee’s and FA struggles

“Credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first”

Chairing the group has even lead to Cunningham being asked to speak at a recent Culture, Sport and Media parliamentary committee, she said “It was brilliant, I was really pleased. Fans are usually the last in the list of people to be consulted by anybody”.

The FA Chairman Greg Clarke has twice been called to the committee and Cunningham explained that they’re getting somewhere. “Clarke has responded really well and after being called to two of the committee’s, we had a meeting with the FA”

The Premier League were supportive of the Proud Canaries last season, but the FA didn’t want to know.

Di Cunningham (left) pictured with local Police Commissioner Stephen Bett

“We had been banging on the door of the FA to give us a meeting, but credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first.”

Although Cunningham admitted nothing is “concrete” as of yet, “progress is being made”.

There has been some fantastic work off the pitch, charted by the rise of LGBT fan groups and brilliant campaigners like Di Cunningham.

On the pitch we can only be closer to seeing a professional footballer, in England, confident enough to come out with his sexuality.

It’s likely the rise of LGBT fan groups could play a major role. Cunningham explained she’d “like to think” the supporters groups could help on the way to a footballer being open with their sexuality, but admits there’s still many challenges on the way for LGBT fan groups.

“LGBT fan groups have been in the absence of anything official from the FA, so we haven’t got the signage, the steward training and you still hear homophobia at many grounds and in the absence of that, we are a do-it-yourself movement.

“But it now looks like the authorities are going to act. I think it’s that awareness of the LGBT support groups, that there are LGBT fans around.

“It’s the fact the six percent of the population are LGBT. The next difficult thing to achieve is to make games more welcoming for transgender people.”

You can read more here: Pride in Football and Proud Canaries

‘Openly gay footballers? It’s a long way off’

“My sexuality and football are equally important in my life… it’s just a shame that the two can evoke a lot of conflict”

Sadly, being openly gay in football, as a fan or player, is to risk the homophobia that has run through the game for years.

Attitudes are gradually starting to change. A handful of footballers have come out as gay – mostly in retirement – and someone like Neil Beasley is able to tell his story, which is simply a must-read.

book cover 2Coventry City fan Beasley, also the player and chairman of Birmingham Blaze from the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN), talks honestly about growing up gay in the game and fighting for his right to enjoy the sport he loves without prejudice.

The author describes his opportunity on telling a story from a point of view that hasn’t been told before.

“There are grassroots players who are out and nobody ever talks about them,” he told me. “Nobody talks about their lives and no-one cares or asks what it’s like for lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual (LGBT) fans.”

His story, which took two years to write, touches on Beasley’s youth, playing football, coming out to his team-mates and the macho culture that views gays as weak and somehow not masculine enough to play a ‘man’s game’.

The book also raises awareness about the GFSN and the ugly homophobic abuse that still dogs the beautiful game at all levels.

As well as his own struggles, Beasley’s book offers views from a former Premier League professional, an openly gay non-league manager and a current gay non-league footballer.

“It wasn’t too hard to be open with my feelings telling the story. Trying to get hold of a professional player to talk, now that was hard!” Beasley said.

“We tried lots of people and lots of football clubs to get help. It was difficult, when it came to the subject hardly anyone wanted to talk and when we finally got somebody they didn’t want their name put with it

“The reason we think the professional didn’t want his name in the book was because of what happened with Matt Jarvis, who appeared on front of Attitude gay magazine and got a lot of abuse.”

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Matt Jarvis appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in 2013

Jarvis, who is heterosexual, appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in January 2013 whilst at West Ham and gave an interview stating that gay footballers should be open about their sexuality.

In the book, the anonymous Premier League player discusses his views on homophobia and how he played for a team with an openly gay footballer in the set-up.

“I never would have known that he was gay if he hadn’t come out. It makes me wonder if I have played with other players who are gay. I must have.

“The courses that organisations like the FA are running, coupled with campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces are improving peoples’ awareness and understanding,” he adds.

Are we close to having openly gay footballers?

In 2016, we are yet to have an openly gay footballer across all professional leagues in England, and Beasley told me that he believes it won’t happen for a while yet.

“There will gay footballers right now. When do we think they’re going to come out? I think we’re a long way off

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly”

“Every time we get somewhere, somebody else says something stupid. You can’t go more than six months without someone bringing it to a negative light

“I don’t know why you would want to come out. Life would be difficult, if you were having a bad game, the fans are going to hate you and what’s the first thing they look for? Weakness.

“Being gay is always seen as a weakness, not being macho, it’s the first thing they’re going to go for.

“People say it’s no different from when the black people played in the 80s. Yes, it is – you could see that they’re black.”

Coming out

Most football fans are familiar with the case of former Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 came out as gay. No-one else followed suit. The first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee tragically hanged himself in 1998.

However, the author of Football’s Coming Out believes in 2016 there would be a chain reaction if one high-profile footballer came out.

“We would see an initial delay because everyone would want to see what would happen.

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or police? Nothing”

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly.”

Being open with his sexuality to fellow team-mates at Non-League Heyford Athletic was courageous of Beasley, but for him a situation which, bizarrely, he found “disappointing”.

“People ask what it was like coming out to team-mates, they’re after a meaty story but I always say actually nobody really cared!

“In a roundabout way it was a real disappointment! In my mind I was going to get kicked out of the club,” joked the author.

But he remains adamant there have been no real improvements in relation to homophobia in the sport.

“What I think there is, is a media interest that was never there before, trying to push a positive spin on it. From a fans point of view, it’s not a great deal different.”

Abuse from the terraces

In the book, which was nominated for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, Beasley describes how we still hears homophobic abuse on the terraces today; specifically at a recent England World Cup qualifier.

“Outsiders enter a football stadium with this fear of hooliganism, and their fears are often compounded through the aggressive, hostile atmosphere at games.

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Beasley kisses the Birmingham Blaze badge

“And when the outsider is gay? Well, they’re definitely going to be pretty fearful of the hateful, often homophobic, attitude.”

Beasley recalls Tom Cleverley having homophobic abuse hurled at him at Wembley.

“Fans love a scapegoat, and this idiot picked out Cleverly, the reason for the midfielder’s underperformance was that he was a ‘faggot’

“The vocal fan carried on with a volley of aggressive homophobic abuse as the game continued. Inside, I was seething”.

Beasley said the homophobic abuse we hear at football matches needs to be questioned.

“It needs to be challenged. If you stood there and shouted something racist, it would be challenged by other supporters

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or the police? Nothing. That’s what I think would happen.”

Emergence

A recent BBC 5live survey showed that 8% of fans would turn their backs on their team if they had an openly gay footballer. A percentage that Beasley believes is worryingly “high”.

“They say, on one hand, they’re fanatical about supporting their club. On the other, if you get a gay player which doesn’t affect you in any way shape or form, in fact makes no difference to your life whatsoever, you’re just going to quit supporting your team? It seems barmy to me.”

Until the Football Association have an openly gay player to support, Beasley believes it’s always going to be tricky for them

“It’s difficult for the FA, I’m always kicking them, always! But it is difficult and always will be till they have a gay player to support. At the moment it’s all just words.”

But the Birmingham Blaze chairman remains positive: “Things will change, maybe not in the near future, but they will.

“We’re seeing now an emergence of LGBT fan groups at various clubs and with this, we may get a different response down the line.”

Football’s Coming Out is published by Floodlit Dreams Ltd (£9.99 Amazon)